Some time ago, I took part in a webinar about Positive Parenting and heard the term ‘Adlerian Psychology.’ I had no idea what that was, but it got stuck in my mind. So, naturally, like the curious cat that I am, I started doing some research and discovered interesting ideas. Adlerian Psychology is connected to Positive Parenting, and when done right, it can have beneficial effects on the child’s future. So, in this post, I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you on how Adlerian Psychology can help us raise our children to be balanced adults.

But first, some background information:

Who was Alfred Adler?

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was an Austrian physician and a psychotherapist who developed the Adlerian Psychology or Individual Psychology. Adler was a prominent figure in psychology, up there with the likes of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. In fact, he collaborated with Freud for eight years until they had some irreconcilable differences and parted ways.

There’s no question that Alfred Adler was a pioneer in his field, 100 years ahead of his time. Think about it. He was preaching about treating children with respect and affection in an age where beating was still used as a form of education.

What were Adler’s main theories?

He theorized that all humans have two strong needs: to belong and to feel significant. He goes on to say that an adult’s behaviour is the product of his/her early life experiences. In other words, these childhood experiences can have a profound impact on the adult he/she will become.

Thus, the child-parent relationship can dictate whether the child will be more likely to engage in violent behaviour, smoke, do drugs, and so on. A healthy family environment can lead the child towards a successful academic life or a good career.

So, according to Adler, it all depends on how we were treated by our parents when we were young.

For example, an adult who has feelings of inferiority might be the result of years of devaluation as a child. Or an individual’s mental health might be affected by the lack of empathy while growing up.

Adler’s Individual Psychology argues that, as the name suggests, each child is unique. This means that parents need to understand them and accept their particularities before they can apply effective parenting strategies.

But what do you need to analyze when it comes to your child?

  • The Development of the child: parents need to understand that at certain stages in their lives, children have different abilities. Knowing those abilities will help the parent adjust expectations and deal more effectively with the child’s behaviour.
  • The Temperament of the child: we are unique, and so are our temperaments. Some children are shy, whereas others are outgoing. Some children prefer running about all day, while others enjoy reading books. These differences mean that parents need to find the style that fits with the child’s temperament.
  • Birth order (in the case of families with more than one child): this one is quite interesting. Adler tried to answer the question: “Why do children, who are raised in the same family, grow up with very different personalities?” The idea is that, even though it is the same family, certain situations may be different. For example, let’s assume that when the first child is born, the family lives in a small apartment and is financially unstable. When the second child arrives, the family has moved to a house with a lovely garden and can afford nicer things. The third child will take advantage of experienced parents and two older siblings. So, Adler argues that it is all these different scenarios that can affect a child’s personality rather than genetics. Parents need to take this into consideration and be aware that the parenting style that worked for the firstborn may not work for the second or third.
  • Gender stereotypes: parents should try to understand their children as a whole without taking into consideration the gender or the stereotypes that society has put on them. Boys play with cars, and girls play with dolls. Boys wear blue, and girls wear pink. Girls are allowed to show their feelings while boys are encouraged to bottle them up. These stereotypes will cage the child’s potential and limit their talents.

The root of misbehaviour according to Adler

Adler says that all children have a feeling of inferiority. Their behaviour is connected to overcoming that feeling so that they can fulfil their two basic needs: to belong and to feel significant. When they have trouble achieving the two needs, kids start misbehaving.

Bad behaviour can take many forms. We’ve seen most of these in our little angels: they can get clingy, they are demanding or displaying bad behaviour to get the attention they are craving for, power struggles and the need to hurt the parent or a sibling physically.

At times it is incredibly challenging to deal with these behaviours. We may be tired from work, have a lot on our plate, stressed, the child is pushing all the right buttons ( they seem to be experts at this). The crucial thing is to stay calm. If you give in and raise your voice or physically overpower the child, he might temporarily stop but, because the root issue hasn’t been addressed the bad behaviour will continue.

If the child gets what he wants after a tantrum, he will surely do it again.

Kids will continue the behaviour that works for them.

So, stay calm and stand your ground.

And remember, according to Adlerian Psychology, when bad behaviour happens, it’s because one of the two needs haven’t been met. This means that you need to put your detective hat on and find the root cause of your child’s conduct. It may not always be easy, but it will yield better results in the long run.

*If some days your little one’s behaviour gets too much to bear, make sure to read these tips on How to Survive Tough Days.*

What can you do for your children to become balanced adults?

  • Encouragement: 

    Children need to believe that they can do anything, and they need to hear this from the most important people in his life, his parents.

  • Mutual respect: 

    Children are no less worthy of respect than adults. Respect his rights as a human being while teaching him to respect himself and others.

  • Allow them to have a voice: 

    By allowing your children to have an opinion on different matters will make them feel significant within the family. Their voice counts and is valuable.

  • The feeling of security: 

    We may not be able to always keep them safe in the big world, but children need to have a sense of security within the family.

  • Teach them independence:

    As a parent, you never want to see your child struggle. But being overprotective can rob your child of opportunities to learn and develop.

  • Focus on the positives instead of the negatives: 

    Mistakes are a part of learning and a part of being human. Don’t make too much fuss on what went wrong, instead focus on what was right. Children must have the courage to be imperfect.

  • Allow them to be useful: 

    Let them have their little chores around the house. For example, when it’s cleaning day, have them do simple tasks like dusting. And if they’d rather do a more complicated chore, because they saw you doing it, allow them to try under your supervision. Words like “You can’t do it because you’re too little” will make them feel insignificant which, in turn, will lead to misbehaviour.

  • Family time: 

    Ultimately children might not remember the toys they had or the clothes, but the time they’ve spent with their family.

  • Take the time to explain things: 

    Children are very good at asking “Why” questions. We hear this word 100 times a day. However annoying, it’s important to take the time to explain things. Even if it’s a complicated concept for their age, try to use simple words and ideas. They may still not fully get it, but kids appreciate and feel significant that the parent tried to explain. Avoid saying: “Mind your own business, this is adult talk” or “You’re too young, you wouldn’t understand”. If someone said that to you, you’d feel insignificant and worthless.

  • Establish rules and consequences: 

Positive Parenting is not about allowing your child to do whatever he wants. There is a need for clear rules and consequences for breaking them.  There are two types of consequences: Natural consequences (are the direct result of the child’s behaviour and are usually very effective) and Logical consequences ( are set by the parent and come as a direct or logical consequence of the conduct). Amy McCready has come up with ‘5 R’s of Consequences’. Just as a little detour, Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions which offers invaluable advice to struggling parents. She also has a free webinar that is worth watching. Now, let’s get back to the 5 Rs:

  1. Respectful: when dealing with bad behaviour, you need to remain calm and be respectful towards the child.
  2. Related to the misbehaviour: ‘If you don’t wear a helmet you can’t ride your bike’. The consequence is logical, easy to understand and related to the transgression. Opposed to ‘If you don’t wear a helmet, you can’t eat cake’. Cake has nothing to do with riding a bike. It is not a logical consequence, and the child might feel that it’s not fair. Thus the rebellion against the rule. Your kid doesn’t have to like the consequence, but it always has to be fair.
  3. Reasonable in duration: taking the child’s age into account as well as the severity of the transgression set a reasonable length for the consequence. For example, ‘You haven’t put away your Lego as I’ve asked, so you can’t play with it till tomorrow. Tell a 3-year-old that he can’t play with his Lego for a month and you might as well tell him that he can never ever play with Lego again.
  4. Revealed in Advance: the child must always know the consequence for his action in advance so that he can make a choice.
  5. Repeat back the rule and the consequence: after presenting the child with a new rule and consequence for not following that rule, it would be a good idea to ask the child to repeat it back to you. He will be more likely to follow that rule or accept the consequence if the words come out of his mouth.

Being a parent is probably the hardest job out there. You need to mould a little person into a functional and balanced adult. No pressure, right? I feel like the Adlerian Psychology, combined with positive parenting, is an approach that will help me, as a parent, to raise a happy and balanced boy.

What is your opinion on Adlerian Psychology? How do you deal with your child’s bad behaviour? Please let me know in the comment section below.